By Kristen Winiarski

As the only woman to be executed in Minnesota, Ann Bilansky must have done something very naughty, or she was that unlucky. Both of her husbands died, which may make her a black widow of sorts, but there’s more to this story than meets the eye, and we wouldn’t blame her at all for continuing to haunt St. Paul, Minnesota.

Ann Bilansky

The Black Widow

Bilansky originally lived in North Carolina with her first husband before his untimely death in a railroad accident. She then traveled to St. Paul to be with her nephew and met her second husband, Stanislaus Bilansky. While Ann was a good stepmother to his three children, it turns out she may have been a murderous wife. But it’s hard to blame her when she was married to a violent drunk, who also seemed to have a touch of hypochondria (he frequently went to the doctor). In his latest stint with illness, it was thought to be indigestion, but he soon took a turn for the worse and died.

Arsenic powder

Her Trial and Execution

While it was initially ruled as natural causes, it soon came out that Ann had recently purchased arsenic, which she insisted that Stanislaus wanted to kill rats, and that she was having an affair. Whether either was the truth, we’ll never really know. Based on those testimonies, Ann was convicted and sentenced to hang in 1860. The evidence was sketchy though. They did find a crystal that could have resembled arsenic, but it shouldn’t have been enough to convict her. Ann did escape the jail but was caught a few days later with John Walker, who was believed to be her lover.

She maintained her innocence until the end and that she hadn’t received a fair trial. Even though she requested a private execution, she was denied since the public display was used to deter crime. Her final words claimed she would find the justice in heaven that she hadn’t found on Earth. She hung for 20 minutes and is buried in an unmarked grave in Calvary Cemetery. While her last-minute conversion to Catholicism meant that she could be buried there, they decided not to mark the grave of a convicted murderer, which may have just angered her spirit more.

A photograph of the gallows at 5th and Cedar Streets

Her Hauntings

At the time, this murder was considered the crime of the century. Ann’s final words had an underlying meaning that could mean that she would act out revenge on those who wronged her. Because of this, her ghost comes as a representation of a grim reaper. Stories came quickly after her conviction, with her seen close to where she was hanged at 5th and Cedar Streets, and walking the cemetery seeking her absent headstone and dressed in her black executioner’s robe.

“I die without having had any mercy shown me, or justice. I die for the good of my soul, and not for murder. May you all profit by my death. Your courts of justice are not courts of justice — but I will yet get justice in Heaven. I am a guilty woman I know, but not of this murder, which was committed by another. I forgive everybody who did me wrong. I die a sacrifice to the law. I hope you all may be judged better than I have been, and by a more righteous judge. I die prepared to meet my God.”
~Ann Bilansky

Our St. Paul walking tour will take you right near where Ann took her last breath. We’re back Friday nights at 7:00 p.m. starting in May and running through October. Check out all of the supernatural stories of the area!